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Immigration Basics: Key Facts and Figures

Romish Badani

We are on the brink of the most extensive immigration reform in the last 25 years, with a bill likely to be introduced next week. If you haven't been following along, don't worry, we're here to catch you up.

This three-part immigration 101 will provide a snapshot of the immigration ecosystem (part 1), an overview of the paths to immigrating to the U.S. (part 2), and a summary of the key issues up for debate (part 3). Rather than bore you with the nitty gritty, we'll give you just enough to be an intelligent participant (rather than a casual observer) in this monumental debate.

Breaking Down the Immigrant Population

Today there are 40 million foreign born immigrants in the U.S. (or 1 in 8 people!), with approximately 1.3 million new people immigrating every year.

The breakdown of those 40 million foreign born immigrants is perhaps more surprising than the total itself. Only 40% of those 40 million are naturalized citizens, meaning that they have obtained U.S. citizenship by completing the required steps including residing in the U.S. for a 5-7 years.

Approximately 30% of foreign born immigrants are Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), meaning they are not citizens but are allowed to reside permanently in the U.S. Permanent resident status is most frequently obtained through a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or another LPR or through sponsorship by a U.S. employer. However, the most staggering fact to me is that 9 million LPRs (or 70% of total LPRs) are eligible for citizenship but are not applying. There are a number of potential explanations for the country's low naturalization rate, but I suspect the cost and complexity of the immigration system has a lot to do with it.

Finally, approximately 25% of immigrants are referred to as "undocumented." These are immigrants that are in the country without the government's permission, either by entering illegally or overstaying a legally-obtained temporary visa. The small remainder of immigrants falls into various buckets including students and temporary workers.

The Government

Three government agencies handle different responsibilities of the immigration system. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) carries out the administrative functions associated with immigration, such as processing visa and naturalization applications. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigates violations of immigration law and is responsible for enforcement, like deportations. Lastly, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) focuses on securing the border and preventing terrorists from entering the U.S.

You're now equipped with some basic facts, figures, and knowledge of the players  both immigrants and government agencies directly involved in the immigration system. Go share your knowledge and don't be shy about asking us follow up questions!

In part two of our Immigration Basics series, we'll help simplify the immigration maze and explain the key immigration paths through which people immigrate to the U.S.


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